Some coaches and players rival politicians and public speakers in the gift of saying a lot, while at the same time saying nothing at all. Many of the responses start to become routine — and although the words can be particularly useful when they are trying to divert attention away from an issue or a controversy — they become stale or "cliché."
Clichés are especially prevalent in sports and can yield reactions from people that range from laughter to eye rolling to outright disgust. Some of them used to be creative before they became commonplace, and not all of them can show up in one article, but here are some of the best and worst clichés— along with an analysis from a coach that has probably heard and said plenty of them.
One of the most important positions in hockey is the goalkeeper. He or she has to locate a fast-moving puck in the midst of a bunch of bodies and try to prevent it from slipping past their glove or stick to light the lamp. If a goalie is particularly acrobatic or saves a lot of shot attempts, many say "the goalie really stood on their head today out there".
UNM Lobo hockey head coach Grant Harvey said he remembered hearing that one from his father when he was about seven years old and thought it was an odd turn of phrase.
"I was like how in the world is that gonna help stop more pucks?" Grant recalled. "But I exaggerate a lot, so I can appreciate these things."
Harvey said he often blurts out similar colloquialisms, saying things like "this guy could stick-handle in a phone booth" if he is adept with the hockey stick at moving the puck. The obvious conclusion is that the player can perform at a high level in tight spaces, but there other negative variations involving the phone booth cliché that are seen in other sports, like football's "he couldn't tackle someone in a phone booth," a nod to someone's poor tackling ability.
He said he'll sometimes overhear his players saying something clever and then laughs when they remind him that it him that they originally heard making the statement.
But some sports clichés irritate coaches too.
"Giving 110 percent". Harvey said that popular saying is one that just advocates the impossible.
"I do really think that when you say 110 percent, it loses meaning," he said. "Because we get it. You're getting the most or your going even 10 percent above that, but it's ridiculous. I hate that."
He also said the "At the end of the day" statement has to go.
"If you're playing a 10 a.m. game, it's not the end of the day. You need results quicker than that," he pointed out giving a chuckle.
But not all clichés are bad, disingenuous or even reserved for fans and media — some are delivered to players. The head coach said some are literal and others are figurative, but they can be used to harp on player safety concerns because there is no better way to articulate the point.
"Laying it all out there" can be both literal and figurative, because Harvey said he sometimes asks his players to actually sacrifice their body on a block.
Others like "He's got eyes in the back of his head" or "You've got to keep your head on a swivel" are messages delivered to players in many contact sports, and convey that they must be aware of their surroundings to avoid the risk of injury.
Many players use popular sayings that make coaches cringe as well. "Our heads/hearts weren't in it" and, of course, "We got outcoached today" are not things most people on the team would care to admit publicly.
Harvey pointed out that journalists are at least partly to blame for the canned answers many coaches provide, rhetorically asking how many different ways do people want them to answer the same question.
"Reporters force these guys into being record players," he said. "You force them into these stupid pull-string doll answers because the reporters keep giving them these same lame questions."
It is probably part of the reason Harvey delivers his messages to players and media in a variety of unconventional ways. He doesn't use a whistle during practice and he isn't shy about giving an honest opinion after a game — though he pointed out it is difficult to do immediately after the horn sounds because that is when they are most vulnerable, which probably isn't always the way to get an honest or accurate sentiment from someone.
He said he tries to mix things up because the least effective form of coaching is when things are predictable. He said he relies heavily on humor and considers it to be his best delivery for messages.
"If you give them the same repertoire, they'll tune you out, but if they are waiting for the next punchline, they'll tune in," he said.
Harvey said if someone can get a group of people to laugh, they are unified for a little bit and things get through that they will remember. The head coach said if something is hard to hear, sometimes giving the gift of a laugh can help dissipate some of the sting.
So, whether these clichés make you laugh or not, here are some of the best and worst clichés commonly heard in sports:
"We're taking it one game at a time"
"There is no 'I' in team"
"It is what it is"
"Today's game was a must-win"
"It was a total team effort"
All of those phrases really fail to say anything noteworthy as there is no known method to play games two or more at a time — with perhaps the exception of combining sports like "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone did using elements of baseball and basketball to create "BASEketball", a 1998 sports comedy movie. Pretty much every game should be considered a must-win and anything that isn't an individual sport could probably play the "team effort" card.
Here are some honorable mentions that seem to be directly at odds with each other, but each are heard frequently:
"You win as a team" versus "Player 'X' really carried us today"
"Defense wins championships" versus "Sometimes good offense just beats good defense"
"We just wanted it more" versus "They just wanted it more"
"Practice makes perfect" versus "Sometimes it's better to be lucky, than good"
"We've got to play within ourselves" versus "He (or she) just played out of their mind today"
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.